On September 19th this year, we will celebrate our 25th year in the IT industry. We’ve seen some incredible transformations in technology and the possibilities which stem from this; none more so than the opportunity to modernise your workplace with digital technologies which empower your employees. To mark the anniversary, we’re drawing on our experience to bring you 25 tips on how your business can stay ahead of the game in 2016 and beyond.
1) Use multiple passwords and change them regularly
It's very common, and understandable, for people to use the same password for lots of different things. It's much easier to just remember one, and when you need to quickly log in to a site, you don't want to have to furiously rack your brains to remember whether you finished the password with a $ sign or a number. However, by using different passwords, you protect yourself from potential further damage if one of your passwords was to become known, as it won't give anyone access to other sites where you may use it. Moreover, you can use a password manager like 1Password to store all of your log ins for you, keeping you protected and meaning that you have quick access to log in information when you need it.
2) Use Office Online to collaborate with your colleagues in real time
Office 365 subscribers can use the Office suite just about anywhere, allowing them to work on documents and files at any time. Whereas previous versions of Office restrict you to attachments and multiple emails between a group of people, you can now use the power of Office 365 to bring forward your deadlines and improve your end product.
3) Install a firewall to protect your network
A Unified Threat Management (UTM) device is becoming an increasingly crucial part of an organisation's IT infrastructure, as security threats are becoming more advanced and companies are increasingly at risk of reputational and financial damage from a data breach. Don't be put off by the technical name - a UTM device is comparable to having seatbelts on all of your children whilst you're driving. They are always safer in an every day driving scenario if their seatbelts are on, and if you are in an accident, they're far more likely to survive. The installation and maintenance of a UTM device is clearly more complex than that example, but the decision to install one should be very simple.
4) Choose a partner who offers 24/7 support
We believe that having one partner for all of your IT needs is the most effective approach for any organisation, but it's equally important that this partner is able to offer you that support around the clock. Lots of managed service providers are unable to give you the same level of attention 24 hours a day, and this can hamper your business' performance over a period of time. Our team are always on hand, monitoring your systems and dealing with any issues there and then, meaning that potential downtime on a Tuesday can be avoided on a Monday night without you even knowing there was anything to fix.
5) Get all your people using the same versions of software
It's not unusual for a company of 50 people to have Office 2007, 2010 and 2013 in use, with people on Windows 7, Windows 8 and different Mac operating systems as well. Whilst this doesn't necessarily affect the individual user, it does create potential weak spots in your organisation's network, as it is harder to manage updates across the company. If you roll out Office 365 across the business, you can keep everyone upgraded to the latest version of Office, making you more secure and more productive at the same time, no matter what device people are using.
6) Build IT into your business goals to make it an asset and not a hassle
Consider your current approach to computing. Do you use computers because you want to, or you feel like you have to? If the answer is the latter, you're not alone, but we think this attitude can be quickly changed. There's no doubt that PCs and laptops are the best option for any organisation, but if they feel too complicated for your people, they won't be as useful as they could. Make sure you are only using products which make your lives easier, and invest in training to avoid the inefficiency later on that results from misunderstood systems.
7) Seek out testimonials and reviews before choosing an IT partner
There's nothing quite like a referral for peace of mind when it comes to partnering with another organisation. However, reviews from other customers of a business are also really useful when trying to determine who is right to work with you. If a company has a high Google Reviews ranking, and has credible sources giving them positive reviews either on their website or on a partner review service like Microsoft Pinpoint, you can have more confidence that they'll be able to help your business too.
8) Make sure you are securely backing up your data
Data security has always been important for any organisation, but never more so than today. Given that the average data breach is reported to cost UK businesses over a quarter of a million pounds, along with huge reputational damage, it is something that most businesses cannot afford to suffer. By migrating your data to a location such as Azure, you can utilise the billions of pounds of research and development which Microsoft have made, and with datacentres now in the UK, businesses in the country can feel even more comfortable doing so.
9) Consider who has access to your data and where they can access it from
If your data is backed up or stored in Azure, this is going to be less of a concern, but if you're still using traditional tape backups, it would be prudent to bear in mind the potential risks of losing the tape. Not only do you lose your backup of that day, but it could fall into the hands of another organisation, who could get an insight into your plans, or worse still, your customers' data could be leaked.
10) Encrypt your devices to protect your data in case of loss
Device encryption is important because if you lose it, you won't lose your data. Encryption is also extending into emails for the same reason, and is a relatively quick process which adds an extra layer of security to your people.
11) Consider a mobile device management product to allow people to bring their own devices
Mobile device management (MDM) products are very useful for organisations, as it means they can avoid spending thousands in upfront device purchases along with the monthly tariff charges. Instead, users can work on the phones and tablets they are used to and comfortable with, and you can install a product such as Microsoft Intune from the Enterprise Mobility Suite, or MobileIron, to protect your organisation in case of loss. These products allow you to remotely wipe your data from the device without touching the personal data on the phone, meaning that you are safe and your user can recover their personal content.
12) Only open an email from a trusted source and don’t click on a link unless you’re expecting it to be there
The advancements in email spoofing are fooling lots of people and costing UK organisations millions of pounds each month. Emails which arrive from an address which appears to belong to a Finance Director are actually slightly different, but at a quick glance this would not be noticed. Sums are transferred to accounts by unknowing employees, only for it to transpire that the Finance Director never authorised or even requested such a transaction. Being aware of these threats and picking up the phone if you're unsure can help to protect you from falling foul of this scam.
13) Consider using a Unified Email Management system like Mimecast to protect against phishing and email spoofing
Mimecast is one of the leading Unified Email Management (UEM) systems for small and medium enterprises, and it works to protect you in a number of ways. Mimecast offers outstanding email reporting, allowing you to track where potentially sensitive information is being released from your organisation and also preventing potentially fraudulent information from entering. Whilst user education and awareness is the first step to preventing a spoof, having software such as Mimecast running will support them in their efforts.
14) Use a service such as Azure AD Premium to allow users to reset their own passwords
Whilst using a password manager will simplify things for your users, it won't necessarily speed up the process of changing passwords. Should you want to change a password, or reset it if you do forget it, it's often a protracted process due to the importance of keeping passwords secure. However, inside the corporate network, the multiple programs which you use can all have the same password with Azure AD Premium, offering a service which has replaced Single Sign-on (Active Directory synchronisation). Azure AD Premium will update your passwords across the network when you do change it, and if you reset your network password, it will update your credentials in Office 365, and vice versa.
15) Turn off your PC when you leave for the day – it saves power, allows updates to run and improves performance
It might sound simple, but lots of people leave their PCs running overnight. Not only is this detrimental for the environment, but it will actually worsen your PCs performance too. Regular shutting down or restarting of your PC will ensure it is regularly updated, keeping it as secure and as fast as when you first started using it.
16) Use OneNote to jot your ideas down and then bring them to order when you’re ready
When ideas are flowing in a meeting or you're just trying to make a start on brainstorming a new project, it's important to record everything that may be useful to help you narrow down your options before deciding on the best approach to take. Microsoft OneNote is easy to organise and gives you lots of quick editing options on any device to help you keep track of these ideas as they're coming. The real highlight is being able to share your work with everyone else in the meeting as it's happening, meaning that you can draw up a plan in minutes and everyone can be on the same page (literally!)
17) Use the “Tell me what you want to do” function in Office 2016 to work out where the tools are that you need
Letting the technology work for you is the key to improving your productivity. Every Office application has a search bar in the ribbon at the top, making it easy to get help looking for something that you can't find.
18) Use a personal assistant like Cortana or Siri to speed up your research
For the same reason as using Office 2016 tips, Cortana in Windows 10 or Siri for iOS users are great tools to help you be more productive in the workplace, and serve the same purpose. Cortana will also learn more about you the more you use it, meaning it will make educated suggestions of tools which may help you in your projects and deliverables.
19) Make sure you have up to date antivirus on all of your devices
Antivirus is the starting point for device security. Data backups, server backups, email encryption and mobile device management are all crucial steps to take to fortify your organisation, but they have to be taken on top of a platform of antivirus on each machine. Without it, your users will have malware spreading across their PCs, meaning you have to reset and discard machines which will cost you time and money, and leave you potentially unable to recover gigabytes of data.
20) Save your files in approved locations
Approved save locations such as your company's SharePoint site and OneDrive for Business can give you peace of mind when completing your work. Files saved to a Desktop or USB are not necessarily unsafe, but can become corrupted more easily, and should they get lost, it's very difficult to retrieve them. OneDrive for Business syncs to your machine as well as storing your work in the cloud, allowing for easy and secure retrieval of files whenever you need them.
21) Consider whether a user needs administration rights before giving them locally
When trying to install a program or run something on your PC, a secure network will prompt you for administrator permission before it allows you to proceed. This can be frustrating, and to save everyone time, a systems administrator might be tempted to give that machine admin rights. However, the more local administrators that are on a network, the higher chance there is of a data breach causing irrecoverable damage, as a hacker will have full control if they break into a machine with admin rights. It's by no means a certainty that having lots of people with local admin rights will harm your organisation, but it's worth thinking about whether people really need it.
22) Use the products which are best for your business; not necessarily the ones you are used to
In the same way that aligning your IT strategy with your business strategy, rather than the other way round, will allow you to use technology most effectively, doing your research on the most appropriate products for your business will have the same effect. Lots of organisations develop programs which are industry specific, and finding out what is available and how it could fit into your plans might cost you more in the short term, but will reap huge benefits in the long term.
23) When buying hardware, remember that buying cheap often leads to buying twice
For most organisations, especially start ups, the cost of new equipment can be significant, and it can be tempting to reduce these costs by taking advantage of a bundled deal of home machines from a retail outlet. Whilst this might seem a good solution, there's often incompatibilities and limitations with home PCs when used in a business environment, and this can lead to you needing to refresh your whole PC estate again. Business PCs and servers have faster processors, more memory, are more secure and as a result, are usually more expensive, but the extra cost is worth it if you're serious about your business growth
24) Use Windows 10 ‘Quiet Hours’ to suppress distractions
Quiet Hours exists to avoid you being disturbed when you don't want to be. At the moment, the setting works between 12am and 6am, but Microsoft have announced their intention to make this customisable, meaning you can turn Quiet Hours on when you're in an important meeting and turn it off again once you're done.
25) Learn some of these Windows keyboard shortcuts to save yourself some time:
Win + R – opens Run
Win + E – opens Windows Explorer
Win + L – locks Screen
Win + M – minimises all Windows
Win + D – shows Desktop
Win + S – opens Search (Windows 10 only)
Win + I – opens Settings (Windows 10 only)
Win + A – opens Action Centre (Windows 10 only)
We hope you find some of these tips useful. If you have any questions about how you can work a little bit more productively, or want to lean on the experience of a managed service provider who was born in the same year as the internet, then you can give us a call today.